Israel Seeks Bush Assurances on Settlements

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (search) is counting on President Bush to keep his commitment that Israel (search) can retain several large Jewish towns near Jerusalem as part of a peace accord with the Palestinians, Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Monday.

In fact, "we do not need any assurances because it is crystal clear and it is simple," Olmert said in a telephone interview with American reporters. "When President Bush makes one commitment, it is enough."

And yet, Olmert said, in the course of talks the two leaders will have on Bush's farm in Texas next week, "maybe it will be repeated" by Bush.

On a Sharon visit to Washington a year ago Bush voiced his support for Israel retaining Maale Adumim (search) and a few other Jewish population centers near Jerusalem in any peace accord with the Palestinians.

The president said the demographic situation on that part of the West Bank had changed since Israel captured control of the territory and East Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 Mideast war (search).

Last month, however, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Israel's plan to expand Maale Adumim was "at odds with American policy" and could threaten peace with the Palestinians.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Rice said the Israeli plan to add 3,500 housing units to the Jewish settlement was "not really a satisfactory response."

Olmert, architect of Israel's planned withdrawal from Gaza this summer, said "Israel will not be expected to pull out from the areas" on the West Bank due east of Jerusalem.

"We know he will keep his word," Olmert said of the president's statement a year ago, which Bush put in writing.

Nor, the deputy prime minister said, would Israel pull out of Jerusalem, where the Arabs expect to establish the capital of a Palestinian state.

Unlike Gaza, he said Jerusalem long has been part of Jewish prayers.

But, implying Israel would yield most of the West Bank (search) in an overall agreement, even though it is part of Biblical Israel, Olmert said "that does not apply to the rest of the territory."

If Israel did not transfer the land to the Palestinians for a state, Israel would lose its Jewish identity, he said.